10th and Wolf (2006) / Drama-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for strong brutal violence, pervasive language, some drug content, and sexuality/nudity
Running Time: 107 min.

Cast: James Marsden, Giovanni Ribisi, Brad Renfro, Brian Dennehy, Piper Perabo, Dash Mihok, Francesco Salvi, Lesley Ann Warren, Leo Rossi, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee, Veronica de Laurentiis, Billy Gallo
Director: Robert Moresco
Screenplay: Robert Moresco, Allan Steele
Review published August 24, 2006

Inspired by a true story (aka 99% fiction), 10th and Wolf derives its title from the names of the streets that cross in the predominantly Italian neighborhood in Philadelphia where the main characters of the film reside.  Set mostly in the early 1990s, the film starts off in the Persian Gulf, where Tommy (Marsden, The Notebook), an AWOL Marine who happens to be from a reputed crime family, finds himself coerced by Federal agents into getting the goods on the head of the organization running things in his old neighborhood.  When he gets back, he hooks up with his tough-nut gangster cousin, Joey Marcucci (Ribisi, The Big White), who has hired on Tommy's halfwit brother Vincent (Renfro, The Jacket), running a small but successful operation in the heart of the community.  Using his connections with Joey, Tommy must remain wiretapped in order to record his conversations with a ruthless Sicilian mob boss named Reggio (Salvi), who the Feds desperately want to take out by any means necessary.

As far as crime dramas go, 10th and Wolf isn't a bad entry, but if you've seen similar films like Donnie Brasco, Goodfellas, and State of Grace, it isn't really a fresh one either.  Despite starting off with an interesting parallel depicting the importance of taking out the head of the organization (Saddam Hussein in this case), that foreshadowing provides the only unique hook in this routine mobster entry that will probably only have strong appeal to those that regularly feast on such fare.

The performances in the film are uniformly strong, but I do find the characterizations to be a bit too much in many instances to buy as a real story.  Between the Forrest Gump-like Vincent, the one-legged Junior (Mihok, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), and the tongue-wagging Joey, this straightforward drama sometimes plays out too much like a hyper-fantasized gangster opus. The ensemble of actors is solid, although the casting is somewhat curious.  It's not easy to buy the diminutive Ribisi as the neighborhood tough guy (he's no Joe Pesci), while Marsden and Perabo (Edison, The Cave) look and sound like they grew up in entirely different neighborhoods than the rest of the players. 

10th and Wolf is the follow-up film from Robert Moresco, the Academy Award screenwriter for 2005's Best Picture, Crash This is his first time out as a director, and a good one, with a keen sense of style and pacing, although it is clear from the presentation that he spent some time watching The Godfather and Goodfellas before directing his film.  Hey, if you're going to be inspired, might as well borrow from the best, right?

Moresco's writing is competent and his story always interesting, and if he could have made his characters a little less bombastic and tone a little more gritty, it would have gone a long way into taking this crime drama to the next level to merit watching even for those that normally wouldn't give mob stories a chance.  If you like these kinds of movies, you'll find it entertaining, even if it doesn't quite emerge as something of significance in the crowded field of crime family stories of conflicted loyalties, honor, and betrayal.

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo